To stay afloat organizations , like ships on the ocean, are designed to be reasonably impenetrable and inflexible. Safety and stability is important to ships and organizations but that same safety and stability create drag when it comes to evolution and change. This drag is commensurate with the size and scope of the organization. The bigger the ship the longer it takes to turn.
The ocean of culture in is wider, deeper, more fluid and changeable than the organizational ships that travel over them.
Scouting organizations embrace cultural change slowly – individual Scouts embrace cultural change quickly. Scouts have the unsettling ability to apply the values and ethics Scouting developed in them without much regard to what the broader organization thinks. Scouts take what we say literally.
For the just over a decade Scouts, adult volunteers and Scouting alumni have decided that the organizational prohibition of gays and lesbians as adult volunteers does not jibe with the ethics Scouting taught them.
Stories of gay Scouts, adult volunteers and Scouting alumni have a common thread; most credit being a Scout with empowering them to be who they are. They love Scouting, they speak fondly of the time they spent as Scouts, they speak of the loss they feel because in order to be true to the very values Scouting taught them they are now considered unfit to serve.
Certainly we can agree that excluding a class of people for something over which they have no choice is unethical. The question you must settle yourself is whether homosexuality is a natural part of the human condition or that it is a choice, an illness, or perhaps a moral weakness.
It’s not my intention to argue the specifics. You must search your heart and the evidence and decide for yourself. Some quarters of our cultural ocean are still storm-tossed over the question. In many places the storm is past and there’s clear sailing.
Any organization of national scope and a century of service is likely to have found itself on the wrong side of history from time to time. Big national organizations are often reluctant to face cultural realities – especially when championing a set of values and ethics trumpeted as unchanging and unalterable.
It’s clear, however, that Scouting organizations have changed how they interpret and express their values many times. Some of these changes were motivated internally, some by external pressure. Certainly you can’t adjust your principles based on petitions or leave them up to a majority vote. But human society evolves, things change and these changes are not all bad.
Within my tenure the policy on women becoming adult leaders in Scout troops was changed. This ethically, morally just decision was made in response to the changing status of women in our society. It was also divisive and unpopular with many long-time Scouters. There was a lot of gnashing of teeth and rending of garments and dire predictions that it would sink the ship. Yet here we are, two decades later, having vastly benefited from welcoming women into positions of leadership throughout the organization.
The ship is still afloat.
I am also encouraged that the ethics and values at the heart of Scouting are still vital and relevant. Scouts develop a keen sense of universal human values that empower them to be decent, contributing, compassionate members of society.
I admire Scouts, adult volunteers, and alumni who – with great conviction and sometimes at great personal loss – have taken a stand against the ban on gay and lesbian adult leaders.
Scouting needs them and the world needs more like them.
Naturally we are not all going to agree on this.Honestly I am weary of arguing and debating this issue – I have better things to do (and so do you). At this point, though, after fielding requests for an opinion on the issue I feel it would be irresponsible not to say something.
I have also prepared this page on equality issues that offers some advice and resources, and perhaps a measure of solace if this is something you are struggling with.
I welcome you to leave a comment but one of the reasons I have been reluctant to discuss these issues is that online discussions of these debatable questions are rarely polite exchanges of ideas and quickly degrade into personal attacks – please, please, please prove me wrong.
If you’d like to contact me via email feel free to do so.